Tina is asleep on the bed, turned away from the window, the morning light soft around the edges of the motel curtains. She is snoring softly, which I won’t tell her about when she wakes. She likes to pretend that she is a delicate flower.
We had gone south for Easter, driving along the coast until we ran out of stamina, and stopping at the first motel with a vacancy. Tina had fallen asleep before I’d gotten out of the shower, sprawled on her stomach across the top of the bed nearest the window. I’d covered her with a spare blanket from the closet, and slept alone in the second bed.
We haven’t heard from Olivia in months.
Yesterday, we stopped for lunch at a diner along the highway. We sat at a booth by the window, and watched the cars speeding along the highway between us and the ocean.
“We could just keep driving,” Tina said. She turned her coffee cup slowly in her hands, not drinking it. “Not go back.”
“We have to go back,” I said. “Somebody has to feed the cat.”
“We should’ve brought her with us.”
Now, Tina mumbles something in her sleep, and she rolls over, facing the window and the chair where I am sitting. She fumbles with the blanket covering her for a moment, and pulls it back from her bare leg. Sometime during the night she has taken off her pants, although I don’t see them on the floor. Perhaps they are as tangled up in her blanket as she is.
She does not wake.
I unlock my phone and scroll through the photos there that I’d taken yesterday on our drive: blurred scenery as seen from the highway, shoreline landscapes from where we’d stopped to walk the waterline, Tina’s profile as she had taken her turn driving. There’s something missing from these photos, but I can’t decide what it is. It’s like I’m not looking at actual photographs, but rather an artist’s rendition of the images, hyperreal but achingly false at the same time.
I get up from the chair and go to the motel room’s sink, where the coffee maker sits on the counter. I expect the coffee will be horrible, but I need something to do, and I am hoping the smell of coffee will wake Tina from her sleep. I am not in a hurry to leave the motel, but I am feeling uncomfortably lonely, and having her awake will help alleviate that.
The police took my report on Olivia, filing the paperwork, assuring me that anything that needed to be done would be. I have heard nothing from them in two months, and I doubt that I ever will.
“I need a shower,” Tina croaks from the bed. “I feel like death.”
“I made coffee,” I say.
“Motel coffee is shit,” she says. “Pour me a cup.” She kicks the blanket completely free, letting it fall off the bed and onto the carpet, and lays on her back on the mattress. “Where are my pants?” she asks the ceiling.
“No idea,” I say. “I didn’t take them off you. Maybe you ate them.”
“Would explain the cotton mouth. Coffee. Now.” I pour her drink into a plastic motel cup and bring it to her, black. She sits up and crosses her legs, taking the cup from me and sipping at the coffee. She grimaces. “Terrible.”
“Going to want more?”
“Obviously.” She sets the cup onto the nightstand and slides onto her back again. She grabs one of the pillows and puts it over her face. “Where are we?” she asks, muffled.
“Don’t know. Motel. Somewhere.”
“Did we go to a carnival last night?”
“What? No, no carnivals.”
“Was I drinking?” she asks.
“Not that I saw.”
“I feel like I was drinking.”
“Maybe in your sleep,” I say.
She tosses the pillow onto the floor with the blanket. “Do we really have to go home today? I don’t want to.”
“I have to work tomorrow. Pretty sure you do too.”
“We’re going to the beach. I refuse to go home until we go to the beach.”
“You have to find your pants first,” I say. “You can’t go like that.”
“It’s almost the same as a bathing suit.”
“It’ll be too cold for a bathing suit. You need pants.”
“You’re not the boss of me.”
“Someone has to be,” I say. I kick at the blanket on the floor, twisting it until I see a bit of her jeans within its folds. “There’s your pants.”
“Forget it,” she says. “I brought a dress. I’ll wear that.”
“Guess you’re the boss of you,” I say.
“Damn skippy.” She sits up again and has more of her coffee. “Seriously. Where are we?”
“Is Clint Eastwood still mayor?”
“I don’t think so. I think that was just in the nineties.”
“Huh,” she says. “Time flies.”
“Get up,” I say. “Get dressed and I’ll buy you breakfast.”
“Bacon,” she says. “And coffee that isn’t shitty.”
She sets her coffee back on the nightstand and gets up, walking atop the blanket on the floor and heading for the bathroom. She pulls her shirt off over her head as she goes, tossing it onto the counter by the coffee maker. A moment later, I hear the shower turn on.
I’d like to go out into the ocean this morning, to feel the water envelope me as I move further and further from the shore. It’s too cold for that, though. Winter may be over, but the shadow of it lingers still. I am certain that spring will bring no relief.
On my phone, I have the photo that Rivi took of the ghost in her room, the one which looks like Olivia. It is burned like the afterimage from a flashbulb behind my eyelids.
We are in an endless December, and there is no end to the chill in sight.